Two Alabama rappers, backed by the genius Block Beataz production team, release one of the best rap albums of 2008, a work that is distinctly modern but respectfully reverent.
Make no mistake, G-Side’s Starshipz and Rocketz is a great rap album. But at its core it’s really a showcase for the Huntsville, Alabama-based production trio Block Beataz, the guys behind nearly all of the very hyped and very great rap trickling out of Huntsville. They produce in-house for Slow Motion Soundz, a label that is quietly proving to be home to some of the South’s most productive and prolific minds in rap.
Furthermore, they represent the way that Southern rap has disseminated away from epicenters like Miami and Atlanta and into places like Baton Rouge and Dallas and regions like North Florida and the greater Gulf, where young producers are amalgamating the styles of luminaries like Pimp C and Organized Noize with the synth-heavy pop of new kings like Timbaland and Polow Da Don.
This idea of fertile scatter is why the South has dominated rap airwaves since about the turn of the decade. Whereas the East relies largely on New York and Philadelphia and the West largely on Los Angeles and San Francisco, Southern rap has footholds all throughout the region. Sure, Lil Jon and Polow are from Atlanta, but Timbaland and the Neptunes wreak havoc on pop from Virginia Beach, and Mannie Fresh and Cash Money did it from New Orleans. Right now we have T-Pain from Tallahassee and Plies from Fort Myers. Soulja Boy, creator of arguably the decade’s biggest rap single, is from Batesville, Mississippi, of all places. The unsung heroes, like UGK and 8Ball & MJG, are from places like Port Arthur, Texas, and Memphis. All along the way, new minds have received the baton (often at the same time), but most importantly, they’ve never passed it on in exactly the form they received it.
The sound of Starshipz and Rocketz epitomizes this trend, with songs full of ethereal trance-synth soundscapes that are buoyed by a more traditional trunk-rattle low-end. The effect is almost narcotic and hypnotizing, and it's also not unlike what I’d imagine floating in space is like, which coming from an album called Starshipz and Rocketz and made by a group based in a town where actual NASA space shuttles are monuments, is probably the intent.
Songs like “Strictly Buzinezz”, with its spacey synth doodles, thumping snares, gospel chorus, and Shawty Lo and Rick Ross name-drops, and “Swangin”, with its meandering bass rumble, screwed-up sample, and pre-req car-talk, exist in this not-front, not-back, but distinctly here area. Others, like the buoyant “Rubba Bandz”, which sounds like a lost Lil Jon track, and “We Own Da Building”, which almost sounds like it could be on a Freeway album, exist somewhere else, but still fit.
The two G-Side rappers Yung Clova and ST 2 Lettaz are far from anonymous. Their deep, born-screwed voices sound positively commanding amongst the Block Beataz beats, and they spit both post-Cash Money bling raps and lived-in, UGK block-tales -- “No TV, couldn’t watch the Flinstones / So I went outside with them boys and flipped stones” -- with equal reverence and comfort. As rappers, they resemble arguably the best type of young Southern MC. Like Lil Boosie and Rich Boy, Yung Clova and ST 2 Lettaz deftly reconcile the South’s two distinct, but not divergent, legacies, and for this reason Starshipz and Rocketz feels like an album to keep around for a while.
And though the album isn’t revolutionary, it might actually be something better. It’s an album that personifies exactly what we look for in music. Aspiring musicians have absorbed the influences around them and created a work that is dutiful but modern. The fact that the album could probably only exist in 2008 -- before there are more trends and more styles to take in -- is precisely why it deserves to be treasured, though if the Block Beataz discography is any indication, it won’t be the last.